The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has said newfound political goodwill with the UK could “lead to a timely agreement on durable solutions” to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, after another round of talks today.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said he is not setting “artificial deadlines” on discussions, but that he would act “with a sense of urgency”.
Sefcovic and foreign secretary Liz Truss also put out a joint statement this afternoon to say the “meeting took place in a constructive atmosphere” and that “officials would meet again this week”.
Truss and Sefcovic said they would “take stock at a political level” next week and consider their respective positions.
The UK threatened to trigger Article 16 and suspend the protocol for much of last year in the face of economic and political friction caused by stringent EU border checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
London and Brussels have both produced proposals to reduce checks, however progress has stalled over the past few months.
The statements from both camps today appear to indicate that the previously frosty tone of negotiations has improved since Truss took over as chief negotiator last month.
Truss took over the role from Lord David Frost, after he resigned from the cabinet over Boris Johnson’s imposition of new Covid curbs.
“They reaffirmed their shared desire for a positive EU-UK relationship underpinned by our shared belief in freedom and democracy and cooperation on common global challenges,” Truss’ and Sefcovic’s joint statement said.
Northern Ireland still follows EU customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, in order for a hard border to be avoided with the Republic of Ireland.
Stringent EU border checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea last year created significant economic and political disruption in Northern Ireland, with empty supermarket shelves and unionist riots creating urgency to fix how the protocol is implemented.